Tonight is the 80th Anniversary of Kristallnacht – remembering the Sterns

Tonight, 9-10th November 2018 is the 80th anniversary of the so called ‘Night of Broken Glass’, when Hitler’s Nazi Party instructed the brownshirts to burn the synagogues, break the windows of all businesses and many homes, loot the contents and most devastating of all, arrest all Jewish men and boys over sixteen years old, incarcerating them in political concentration camps.  Alfred was sent to Dachau, a notorious camp in the cold Bavarian Alps.  All Jewish children were immediately expelled from their schools and life would never be the same again.  Joe Stirling has vivid memories of that terrifying night.  I want to share with you some illustrative photos along with the stylised prologue from Joe’s biography Escaping Hitler (Pen and Sword Books 2016), based entirely on Joe’s recollections, told to me when I first interviewed him in December 2011.

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No. 10 Hintergasse, Nickenich (taken in 2013) The Stern family lived in the upper flat of this house

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Ida and Alfred Stern taken in about 1936

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The Hintergasse Nickenich in early 1930s

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Ida and Alfred Stern on their wedding day in 1923

Visitors

 

It happens so quickly. Loud hammering on the door at around four in the morning. Günter instantly awake. His father’s heavy footsteps on the wooden stairs. The boy creeping from his body-warm bed, joining Mother at the top of the staircase. More banging. Raised angry voices. The door swinging open, rusty hinges straining under the force. Three or four men bursting over the threshold. Uninvited. Invading their home. Strangers, from Andernach or even Koblenz, clutching cudgels and brandishing revolvers.

‘Alfred Stern? Get dressed. You’re arrested.’
‘Arrested? What have I done?’
Günter flinches as his father takes a violent blow across the face. Two menclimb the stairs, pushing past woman and child. Roughnecks turning out drawers and cupboards, throwing contents to the floor, trampling over china and glass. Ida and Günter stunned, silent, shaking. Her husband pushed through the door and onto the cobbles of the Hintergasse. Ida’s throat opens and she screams out:

‘Where are you taking him?’

No reply. Just the muffled sound of Alfred’s anguished objections to being treated as a criminal. He fought bravely for his country. He was wounded four times. He was awarded the Iron Cross. Soon his cries and the marching feet are no longer audible and the night is still once more.

 

(Extract from the opening of Escaping Hitler: A Jewish Boy’s Quest for Freedom and His Future by Phyllida Scrivens.)

Happy Birthday Günter/Joe!

Today, 18th October 2018, Joe Stirling (born Günter Stern), the subject of my biography Escaping Hitler, is 94 years old.  I called in to his home in the Unthank Road Norwich this morning to give him his card and found to my delight that he had visitors – his nephew Paul Skitmore and his wife Sarah. (Paul features in the book as a child)  Joe, although tired, was on top form.  Tonight, instead of accompanying me to speak about his life to the good ladies of Thorpe End W.I. in Norwich, he will be dining out in the city with members of his close family.  I wish him a happy birthday evening.

Joe and me with his birthday cards!

Reminder of the Come Yew In performance in Norwich Summer 2016

With the sun shining in Norwich, England, I am reminded of the wonderful summer’s afternoon I spent in the Norwich Castle Gardens in 2016, watching an energetic and inspiring performance of the unique community play ‘Come Yew In’.  Within the many stories of Norwich history told that day, it was the segment that retold Joe’s story in just a few moments that I had been waiting for.  Using words from my book Escaping Hitler the talented performers paid tribute to Joe.  I have posted this film before but I thought it worth another viewing.

Sad to announce death of Gottfried Busch, Mayor of Nickenich

Both Joe Stirling and I were saddened last week to hear of the sudden and premature death of Gottfried Busch, the honorary Mayor of the Parish of Nickenich, Joe’s birth place in the Rheinland.  Herr Busch had been a member of the local council since 1989 and honorary Mayor (Ortsbürgermeister) since 1992.  He was well loved in the village and followed this blog with a keen interest.  It was Herr Busch who invited me to visit Nickenich in the May of 2016, five months after Escaping Hitler was published.  We found him a delightful generous man, who welcomed us and offering us his hospitality.  The photo shows Herr Bush and I following my presentation to the people of the village.  A few weeks later I received a bulk order for the book, to be given out as gifts to visiting dignitaries.  I was honoured to supply them to Nickenich Council.  Herr Busch died on 17th May 2018, at  sixty-nine years old.  He leaves his wife Lydia and children Sebastian, Patricia, Marco and Leandra.  Joe and I send our condolences to the Busch family and to the people of Nickenich.

 

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Biographer Phyllida Scrivens and former Mayor of Nickenich, Gottfried Busch in Nickenich during May 2016.

Norwich Civic Association St George’s Day Dinner with Joe Stirling in attendance.

As a former Sheriff of Norwich (1975-6) Joe Stirling, the star of Escaping Hitler: A Jewish Boy’s Quest for Freedom and His Future (Pen and Sword Books 2016), was naturally invited to the annual black-tie dinner of the Norwich Civic Association.  This year I was also invited as the after-dinner speaker, to speak about my new book The Lady Lord Mayors of Norwich 1923-2017 (Pen and Sword Books, 2018).  It was an honour and a privilege to address this most knowledgable of audiences!  All seemed to go well and Joe enjoyed his evening immensely.  Victor and I are now taking a well earned break for a couple of weeks.  Back with more updates on Joe soon.

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Phyllida and Joe at Civic Association Dinner, 23rd April 2018

TODAY, 27th JANUARY 2018 is Holocaust Memorial Day. Sharing BBC film on Joe Stirling.

Last evening, 26th January 2018 BBC Look East (Regional News programme) showed a short documentary created by Senior Reporter Mike Liggins,  on the Kindertransport , featuring Joe Stirling’s story in his own words, using some of the photographs that appear in my biography Escaping Hitler. The piece is introduced by Stewart White and Suzie Fowler-Watt.  For the full story of Joe’s remarkable life and his contribution to Norwich over seven decades, plus more photographs, check the Menu drop down for details on how to order your copy, signed by both Joe and me.

 

Joe to feature on BBC Look East Friday 26th January on BBC1 from 6.30pm

Just yesterday I was excited to find the irrepressible BBC Look East Senior Reporter Mike Liggins on the other end of my telephone!

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In preparation for Holocaust Memorial Day he was off to visit and interview Joe Stirling and wanted to ask ‘his biographer’ for some facts and figures!  I also emailed some of the photos from my book Escaping Hitler. When I see Joe tomorrow at the Holocaust Memorial Service at Norwich Cathedral I will ask him how it feels to be interviewed for BBC Television.  One day…..  Meantime, if you live in the Eastern Region do take a look at the film tomorrow night.  The story will also feature on the Look East website over this coming weekend.  The link is as below:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006mj5w

This photo shows Joe with the journalist from the now defunct Mustard TV when he was interviewed a couple of years ago.  I imagine yesterday the scene was quite similar. Joe has just emailed to say that Mike was there with him for over two hours and insisted on help Joe to make a cup of tea. He sounds like a lovely man!

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